Over the weekend I received an email from a good friend. While she lives locally and is definitely close enough to meet for coffee, we only do so about once or twice a month. She works swing shift, weekends, and holidays which makes scheduling an absolute priority for getting together. So we chat on the phone when we can, or she emails me when I’m sleeping and I reply when she is at work. Somehow it works out for us. Lately she has been dating a lovely gentleman and it is going surprisingly well. She characterizes it that way because she has either terrible taste in men or has the worst kind of luck in dating. Personally I think it’s a little of both, because no one should make it to 40-something feeling as if they have too much bad luck or bad judgment. But I digress, as usual.
This friend was married 10 years, no children by her choice, very painful divorce she wanted, he didn’t, and fought her every possible step of the way. Makes one a bit gun-shy about dating. We’ve known each other for more than 20 years – I remember attending her wedding with M and the kids – and shared big and little piecesof our lives. While she has no desire for children of her own, she is actually quite good with kids, even if she does not see it. She confesses liking them a little older – grade school age – but not caring for tweens or teens all that much. I get it. Hell, anyone who has raised children gets it.
Her “lovely man” has three boys – idential twins age 10 and his oldest age 12. Not quite tweens, but rapidly approaching it. She has been seeing him for about 6 months now and the subject of meeting the kids has been coming up more and more as the days pass. While she is fine with the idea of meeting them, she is quite smitthen with this man (and he with her, it seems) so meeting the kids becomes a Very Big Deal. As a girlfriend she feels capable of managing their interaction. As a more serious prospect, though, the task is daunting. She is a more serious prospect since he is a one who keeps his romantic life separate from his parental responsibilities.
Her email requested advice for making a positive impression, because “you’re a cool mom and are completely at ease with kids.”
Ha! I say.
She is not very observant and has not been in the same reality with me all these years. I am the poster child for un-cool, socially awkward parenting. This does not surprise me at all, because I was completely un-cool and socially awkward growing up and now into middle age. I full anticipate being a stodgy, boringly average senior citizen. As for being at ease with kids, I’m only completely at ease with my kids, all the other kids in my universe have been approached with a “fake it til I make it” attitude until I was sure they were of no serious threat to my sanity and well being.
But I brainstormed with M, an actual step-parent without children of his own and having no desire for any either, and he was surprisingly unhelpful. I thought for sure he would have detailed, classified, childless-person advice for me. Nope. He merely nodded sagely and agreed with what I came up with in my first draft. Not helpful, M! This is not a situation where you get extra points for agreeing with me. He merely laughed. The putz. Anyway, here’s my questionable advice:
- Be normal friendly, pleasant, interested self. Kids can sense fakery and will make your life hell if you try to snow them.
- Don’t talk down to them as if they are children. Speak to them as if they are intelligent, observant, interesting, and challenging people … which they probably are in 10 and 12 year old bodies. If they seem indifferent and impolite at first, give them the benefit of the doubt that they are merely nervous and not plotting against you on principle.
- Let their father take the lead on correcting their behavior or anything else. If he fails you in this on the first meeting, discuss it privately and well out of hearing distance.
- If you don’t know about something they reference (i.e., everything pop culture that boys their age are intrigued by), ask questions and demonstrate your curiosity. They already know you’re old, have no kids or neices/nephews, and therefore are completely clueless in ways of the world. Let them instruct you and be game to try (and fail) at anything they offer to show you.
- It’s okay to be nervous, but don’t let your fear overwhelm you. And don’t take it personally if you are too uncool to engage with. These are kids, with a language and universe of their own, be patient and let them come round to you.
I have no idea how right or how wrong I am with this advice, because my kids were easy going and accustomed to male and female friends coming and going while I was single. When I did introduce a romantic interest to them, they were very accepting and okay with it, just another of mom’s friends coming to hang out. To this day there are male friends I dated that evolved into family friends, so my kids are pretty social and grew up meeting and making new acquaintances and adult friends comfortable.
If she completely goes down completely in a firey plume I know she will forgive me. I have already cautioned her that I might not be the best resource for this situation and to take any/all advice provided with caution. Yet I am the nervous wreck hoping it goes well tonight.